Puns, quilts, kites and bats: Niche conventions keep Austin weird

Emily Gibson

For some, the word “convention” conjures an image of thousands of comic book creators and enthusiasts milling around San Diego in elaborate cosplay. For others, “conventions” bring something entirely different to mind — thousands of people gathered to celebrate quilts, or kites, or puns. No matter your interest, there’s a convention meant for you — and you can almost certainly find it in Austin. 

The Austin Convention Center opened its doors Thursday for the International Quilt Convention. During the convention, which runs through Sunday, quilt-lovers from various states and countries can attend over 30 panels, go to workshops and take part in a dance party.  

Austin hosted the first QuiltCon in 2013. It was such a success, the Modern Quilt Guild decided to host another one — this time, bigger, better and quilt-ier.

QuiltCon is far from the first strange convention to succeed in Austin. The city has a history of hosting niche-based conventions for the truly passionate. This year, a wealth of interesting festivals call Austin home.

March 1: The 86th Annual ABC Kite Festival, Zilker Park 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Kites clutter the skies above Zilker Park while vendors, food and booths cover the ground below during the annual ABC Kite Festival. Attendees can compete in contests such as “Smallest Kite,” “Largest Kite” and “Most Unusual Kite.” Those who prefer to remain grounded can eat the food provided by Amy’s Ice Cream, Crepe Crazy, Heros Gyros, Whole Earth Provisions and more. As a good start to springtime, this festival is flying high. 

May 9: The 37th Annual O. Henry Pun Off, O. Henry Museum Backyard 7 p.m.  

What’s more fun-off than a pun-off? May 9, pun-enthusiasts will compete in two different contests at the 37th annual O. Henry Pun-Off. A group of 32 contestants will have 90 seconds to deliver their “punniest” material in hopes of winning “Punniest of Show.” There will also be a group competing to have the best improvised pun performance called the “Punslingers.” Attendees who want to eat are asked to RSVP in advance and pay $25, although people who don’t wish to eat are welcome to attend for free. 

June 27: “Keep Austin Weird” Fest, Long Center Lawn 2 p.m. – 10 p.m. 

The “Keep Austin Weird” Festival celebrates the things that make Austin “weird.” There is live music and vendors, such as Wander Apparel and Temporary Tattoos by JAMM. Guests are encouraged to come in costume and the person with the most outrageous clothes wins free Amy’s Ice Cream for a year. Simultaneous with the event is a 5K that the festival boasts as the “slowest 5K on the planet.” Participants run the 3.2 miles in their costumes and stop at 10 “fun-stops” sprinkled along the way. 

August 22: BatFest, South Congress Bridge 4 p.m. – midnight

Bat Fest is a bat convention in the middle of “Bat City” on Aug. 22. The festival stretches across the South Congress Bridge and includes a bat costume contest, food and vendors for a $10 admission fee. The main event is when the South Congress bat population flies down the river at sunset. 

Strange conventions come to Austin frequently, and they bring with them thousands of excited attendees. This weekend, keep an eye out for people walking down 6th Street carrying their brand-new artisan quilts — they’re  modern day quilt enthusiasts and, most importantly, QuiltCon attendees.